The D-Link Amplifi HD Media Router 2000 DIR-827 was recently demoed at CES 2012 with an exciting feature called HD Fuel, which helps make HD media streaming a much better experience. The Amplifi designation also means that it's supposed to offer better Wi-Fi coverage than other routers.
In my testing, the router indeed worked well, even excellently for the most part. However, I also found some bugs in its firmware that keep some of its features from working as expected. The router's data rates on the 2.4GHz band, though not bad, could also use some improvement, compared with others.
Even with the slightly buggy firmware, at a price of around $145, the DIR-827 is still a very good router. If you want something similar that doesn't currently have any known bugs, check out the Linksys E3200 or the Asus RT-56U.
Design and ease of use
Being the third router in D-Link's Amplifi family, the HD Media 2000 DIR-827 shares the traditional design of the HD Media 1000 DIR-657 and not the cylinder shape of the Whole Home DIR-645. The new router has a squarish, flat shape with the front slightly tapered. It also has a very sleek black top that attracts fingerprints.
The DIR-827 has internal antennas, making it more compact than any previous D-Link router. On the back are four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port, pretty standard for a Gigabit router. What isn't standard is its USB 3.0 port. This is in fact the first router on the market I've seen that supports USB 3.0. There will be soon more routers that offer USB 3.0 in the near future, however.
On the front of the router is an SD card slot; this is another feature that I haven't seen before. This makes it possible to quickly share data stored on an SD card. Near the slot is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button that allows you to quickly hook up a wireless client to the network. (Note that you probably want to avoid using WPS because of some unresolved vulnerability issues.) On top, the router has two blue LED lights that are only visible when lit up. These lights show the power status and the status of the Internet connection.
The DIR-827 comes with a CD that contains the setup software, making setting up the router a very easy job for anyone. The software walks you through all the steps, from unboxing the router to hooking it up to the power cord, an Internet source, and a computer. After that you will also be prompted to set up the wireless network with a few clicks.
Even without using the software, the router is still very easy to set up. This is because once you hook the router to a computer (via one of the LAN ports), an Internet source such as a cable modem (via the only WAN port), and the power, the rest is easy. Now from the connected computer, if you launch a browser, you'll be directed to a Web-based wizard that will work through similar steps found in the desktop software.
I had no problem getting the DIR-827 up and running and believe that no home users will have trouble with it. To manage other features of the device, you'll need to use the Web interface.
The DIR-827 is a true dual-band router, meaning it can offer two types of wireless networking at the same time, one on the 2.4GHz band and the other on the 5GHz, each with a top speed of 300Mbps. This means the router can support basically any Wi-Fi client on the market, including those that offer improved data rates for intensive networking needs, such as HD media streaming.
In addition to those two wireless networks, the DIR-827 can also offer two more guest networks, one for each band. Guest networking, which has been a feature of almost all D-Link Wireless-N routers, allows guests to access the Internet but not local resources such as files or printers.
Unfortunately, during the trials with guest networking, I found a bug in the router's firmware. Once a guest network is turned on, all Wi-Fi clients, including those connected to the regular (nonguest) networks, are isolated from one another, meaning you can't share data between them. In other words, turning on one guest network will make all clients connected to the router be treated as guests, allowing them to access only the Internet and nothing else on the network. This is a major bug that doesn't affect sharing of the Internet but defeats the purpose of the guest networking feature. D-Link has been made aware of this and hopefully will release a firmware update soon.
To manage the guest networking feature, as well as the router's other features, you'll need to use the router's Web interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to the router's default IP address at 192.168.0.1. Unless you have specified a new password, the default log-in password should be left blank.
The router's interface is well-organized and easy to work with thanks to the context-based help, which automatically appears on the right part of the page. The new router supports all common features found in a router of its type, including IPv6, port forwarding, Quality of Service, Web filtering, and so on. In addition, it also comes with some of D-Link's rather unusual features, such as OpenDNS parental controls, enhanced SharePort Plus technology for its USB port, and HD Fuel.
The OpenDNS parental control feature allows users to manage Web filtering from anywhere over the Internet. To use the router with OpenDNS, first you'll need to sign up for a free OpenDNS account. After that, from within the router's Web interface, select OpenDNS as the method to manage the parental control feature; you will then be asked to associate the router with the OpenDNS account via a few mouse clicks and that's it. The router can now be managed from anywhere in the world when you log in to your OpenDNS account at OpenDNS.com.
When hosting an external hard drive, the DIR-827 can also work as a streaming server, making digital content -- including music, photos, and videos -- stored on the connected hard drive available to networked DLNA-compliant media streamers and iTunes. You can also share documents with multiple computers the way you do with NAS servers. You can't restrict access to the hard drive, however, meaning that everyone will have full read and write access to all data stored on the hard drive.
The DIR-827's USB port works with the included SharePort utility software to support any USB device. The software enables the computer to recognize a USB device that's plugged into the router as if it were plugged directly into the computer's USB port. This is a nifty feature that spares you from having to move the device around, since most USB devices are generally designed to work with only the computers they're plugged into. With certain USB devices, such as a printer or external hard drive, SharePort Plus even allows multiple computers to access the connected USB device at the same time.
A highlight of the DIR-827 is HD Fuel, which is basically a special Quality of Service setting that automatically detects the HD media-streaming signal from the Internet and prioritizes the bandwidth for the client that's requesting it. This helps make HD streaming, such as from Netflix or YouTube, a much better experience. HD Fuel works similarly with online gaming and VoIP applications.
This feature works best when only one computer on the network is doing the streaming. When multiple clients are streaming, all of them then get the same level of priority, and I didn't see much difference from other routers that don't have this feature. It would be much more helpful if users could manually set the priority level for certain clients.
The DIR-827 performed well in my tests, for the most part. I tested it both as a router and as a network storage device.
As a wireless router, on the 5GHz band, the DIR-827 registered around 103Mbps at close range (15 feet). When I increased the range to 100 feet, the performance was reduced just slightly to around 90Mbps. These are very good numbers and among the fastest for 300Mbps true dual-band routers.
It was a little different on the 2.4GHz band. At the 15-foot range, the router averaged around 42Mbps; at the 100-foot range, this was lowered to just around 19Mbps.
The DIR-827 offers decent range performance. The DIR-827 managed to provide stable Wi-Fi connections to clients as far as 280 feet in my testing. That's fast enough to do more than just casual Web surfing; the clients should be placed within about 150 feet from the router.
The DIR-827 passed the stress test, in which it was set to constantly transfer a large amount of data between clients. During a period of more than 24 hours, it didn't disconnect once.
Despite support for USB 3.0, which is slated to be about 10 times the speed of USB 2.0, the DIR-827's network storage performance wasn't impressive. I tested the router with a few USB 3.0 portable hard drives and via a Gigabit connection; it averaged about 8.5MBps for writing and around 16Mbps for reading. While these speeds are faster than those of most other USB-enabled routers, and fast enough for general data-sharing and media-streaming needs, they weren't close to the best I've seen and definitely didn't show the benefit of USB 3.0.
Service and support
D-Link backs the Amplifi HD Media Router 2000 DIR-827 with a one-year warranty, which is short but standard for most home routers. At the company's Web site, you will find a wealth of support information including downloads, FAQs, and a searchable knowledge base. You can also seek help through the company's toll-free technical support phone line, which is available 24-7.
The Amplifi HD Media Router 2000 DIR-827 makes a very good router for those who need a fast true dual-band router for HD media streaming. Those who need to use guest networking, however, should wait till there's a firmware update.